I read a great book last night called “The Psychology of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman. It’s actually an older book that explores what works and what doesn’t from a usability perspective. That’s interesting to my group since we are in charge of the management tools in SQL Server. One of the interesting studies he spoke about was around the light controls in your home. In the first incantations of light controls wiring was set up throughout the room in a simple linear line with a blade “switch” that you moved to contact the current to the lightbulb. In the south of America where I come from, we still say “cut on” the light from that idea of a “cut” switch. As time went on, a rotary dial replaced the switch, and you “turned on” the switch to make the bulb shine. Both paradigms were evenutally replaced with the familiar light swtich. We expect the sun to be overhead, and so we think that moving the switch upward should cause the light to shine. It’s just natural – we are taking our cues from the world around us. You don’t have to explain a light switch, it just works intuitively.
In our designs, we are thinking about these things all the time. I’m hoping to integrate more of this “real world” thought patterns into our Management tools – buttons are for pushing, levers are for pulling, objects are for moving, and so on. I hope to make the Management experience as natural as you think it should be.